The Romantic Ideal – Flawed Thinking or Good Old Optimism?

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Ohg Rea Tone is all or nothing. He is educated and opinionated, more clever than smart, sarcastic and forthright. He writes intuitively - often disregarding rules of composition. Comment on his posts - he will likely respond with characteristic humor or genuine empathy. He is the real-deal.

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The Romantic Ideal – Flawed Thinking or Good Old Optimism?

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The good guy gets the good girl – and conversely the good girl gets the good guy.  Bad guys always loose.  High moral standards, good character, hard work, and unwavering principles always find victory.  Bad governments do not endure while noble governments prevail.  The era of romantic literature has revisited modernity – with predictable disastrous results.  The modern romantic masks ideals under the guise of religion or political persuasion – thus the disaster unfolds.  The most fervent of romantics are those who march under the banner of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Jane Austen was a great writer of the Romantic Literary Era.  I just finished reading “Pride and Prejudice.  I am presently in the middle of her novel “Persuasion.”   Only great writing can carry this story – it is horribly predictable.  But Jane Austen is a great writer so I continue.  If Jane Austen were alive today she would make a fortune writing story lines for the daily soaps.  Her plot lines follow predictable patterns – noble, honorable, and rich men always marry the intelligent, practical, and loving wife who know the value of managing a household budget while being generous to others.  The foolish man always marries the foolish girl – then become the recipients of the generosity of the practical rich woman.

Literary academics debate the exact time frame of the Romantic Era – but most think about three hundred years.  Mark Twain ended the consuming era of romantic hope with practical, realistic, characters.  Huck Finn could become friends with the runaway slave Jim.  Jim was a trustworthy companion, always thoughtful, courageous, and dependable.  But the reality was that Huck knew he would be judged for his friendship and Jim knew that he would always be a slave.

Hart Crane and Jack London became known as naturalists.  Their plot line was dramatic – if the noble white knight falls off the ship in the middle of the ocean he will surely drown.  If the noble white knight traverses the Arctic and the temperature drops to fifty below zero with thirty mile-per-hour sustained winds – then the white knight will freeze to death.

Modernity presents a confused message.  The age of cinematography and television revisited the Romantic stories of old, resurrecting Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, Zorro, the Ten Commandments, Noah, HeyZeus, Ben Hur, and the last Mohican.   With these images worn out cinematographers ramped up the juice – giving us Rocky, Rambo, James Bond, Arnold and Sylvester, Spiderman, Iron Man…. and so it goes.  The confused message comes when the people attempting to live the romantic ideal make bad choices and end up in Rational Emotive Therapy.  Prozac and some ‘talk therapy’ take the edge off that hopey-changy stuff.

The “American Ideal” was forged in the furnace of Romantic Literature.  The presumption is that life is not chaotic and random – life is a direct result of ?????? who knows, that ideal depends on one’s persuasion – whether conservative or liberal.  Essentially the ideal is this:  Good things happen when we practice noble principles.  We just do not agree on what is noble.

People exit therapy with some tidbits of wisdom.  Things like:  Trust in God but lock you car.  God can move mountains but we have to bring a wheel barrel and a shovel.  The harder I work the luckier I get.

I may have done Jane Austen a disservice by lumping her in a category with The Three Musketeers.  There is another way of thinking about Jane Austen’s message.  Perhaps she was simply saying that maturity matters.  Her idealized men are courageous but never cruel.  Her idealized women are nurturing but not enabling. By making these statements I reveal my prejudice.  And that is the problem with Romanticism.

The Romantic Ideal is prejudiced optimism.  Good always prevails.  Life is not random – a loving God is directing the show.  So what is wrong with this? isn’t this a healthy mental attitude?  might this attitude negate the need for Prozac?  do attitude and gratitude really rhyme for a reason?  The prejudice exists in the definition of good, noble, honorable, principled, justice, and even truth.  One might think there is room for reasonable debate on all points but truth – truth is absolute – it never changes.  The very definition of truth demands consistency.  Superman fought for “truth, justice, and the American Way.”  Did he need to qualify truth and justice separately from the American Way? are truth and justice not given principles of America?  what is the American Way?

People on the left and the right trumpet their romanticized ideals in political discourse as the true American Way:  Note Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Newt, Limbaugh, Hannity, Chris Matthews… left or right matters not – Jim is still a slave and the white knight still dies.  Mix in some romantic religious ideal and the powder keg of conflict grows exponentially.  After all, the religious people are not just talking economics – they are speaking for God himself/herself/itself/no-self.

Religion is peppered with romantic ideal.  Follow God and you will win wars.  Enemies will crumple and die under your sword.  Follow God and you will have material wealth.  Believe in God and you will have seventy-two virgins at your disposal (coupon qualifier – limit 72 times).  Do not follow God and you will be consumed by hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes and Tsunamis.  It doesn’t get more romantic than that.

The romantic witch’s brew bubbles and steams with more vigor when religion and politics are mixed in the same pot.  And after all, what is the measurement of success if not vigorous bubbles and steam?  Romantics skip the part about actually drinking the brew and suffering the consequences.

12:30 PM Saturday, June 4:  (I stepped away from my keyboard a moment to retrieve my postal-service-delivered hard-copy mail.  My new Time Magazine cover story reads “The Science of Optimism” subtitled “Hope isn’t rational – so why are we humans wired for it?”  Ironic, don’t you think?)

In 2008 then candidate Barack Obama ran a highly romanticized campaign based on hope and change.  People, desperate for something good, voted for the first Black President.  But responsible governing does not offer the freedom of romanticism.  In the romantic ideal of religion there would be no sick, no hungry, no poor, and no war.  President Obama seems to operate more in the spirit of Winston Churchill who said of specific social programs that we should “… move them from the shifting sands of charity to the firm bedrock of law.”  The idealists on both the left and the right are angry with President Obama for proving to be a practical man who does not make decisions based on romantic ideals.  President Obama knows that when he makes a decision some people will live and some people will die.  He does not relegate his decision making powers to the whims of shifting sands.

I will leave this here for now – I have to go check the latest political discourse.

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